Sunday, May 26, 2013

Iles des Saintes

Thursday, May 16 - Monday, May 20, 2013
If you've never heard of "the Saintes" before, don't be too surprised. It's one of those tiny places that has no big resorts and few swimmable beaches, so it doesn't get much notice. Being only five miles from Guadeloupe at its closest point, most visitors to the Saintes are day-trippers ferried in from Guadeloupe's south coast...and a few cruisers. Just about any cruiser we've met who's been here absolutely loves it. The locals are friendly (and speak more English than in mainland Guadeloupe), there are tons of yummy spots to sample the local cuisine, and the anchorages are relatively calm and roll-free. Made up of a cluster of islands, the Saintes has only one real town known as Bourg des Saintes, situated on the island of Terre d'en Haut. Here is where you'll find groceries, internet, boutiques, and people-watching of all sorts. Leave the main anchorage in Bourge des Saintes, and you may find a few other boats enjoying the peace and quiet - but little else.

We certainly had a wild ride getting to the Saintes from Pigeon Island. The forecast called for 14 knot winds with 5-foot seas. Instead, we had 6 knots on the nose and oil-slick seas for the first 10 miles. As we approached the southern end of the island, Island Dream called us on the VHF to warn us of gusts near the point. We began getting knocked over by 25-30 knot gusts, and soon had 26 knots of sustained wind. Coupled with 6-8' seas and waves crashing in the cockpit, the short trip between mainland Guadaloupe and the Saints really wasn't what we bargained for!

We eventually arrived in the main passage and got a call on the radio from Pa'la O'la. Gary and Barbara had been hiking up to the Battery, and saw us come in. They gave us the run-down on the mooring balls (11 euros per night for a boat Pipe's size; required if you want to be in the harbor nearest town), and told us that Blackthorn Lady was also here - a great surprise since we'd expected them to leave for Dominica the day before. We found a mooring ball near our friends, and settled in for some lunch and wi-fi on the boat. An evening pass by Blackthorn Lady turned into an impromptu happy hour catch-up (thanks, Jackie & Ian!), so we never quite managed to make into town as planned.

Friday morning, the six of us rented mopeds to tour the island. The morning started off with more excitement than we really expected - or needed - when the employee in charge of getting our moped started it up, gunned the gas, and lost control of it. I (Stacy) had just come out of a store across the street, and managed to stop the rider-less moped with my leg. Ouch! After a few choice words from our party and an ice pack strapped to the goose egg on my shin, we mounted up for our tour. With "Blue Leader" Barbara in the lead, we made our way up to our first destination: Fort Napoleon.
Built in 1867, the fort is on a hilltop north of town. You can walk around the fort's perimeter for some spectacular views of the Saintes, Guadeloupe, and Marie Gallant. Inside, the fort holds a museum full of old photos, model ships, and stories of the Saintes' history. Fort Napoleon is well worth a visit to anyone coming to the islands. Fair warning, though: the cruising guide describes this as a relatively easy walk from the anchorage; in truth, it's on top of a very long, very steep hill. Just saying... :-)

The next stop on our moped tour was the Baie de Pompierre, a beautiful protected bay on the east side of Terre d'en Haut. With a small entrance and land nearly all around, the bay seemed like it would make a perfect anchorage for a few boats. Sadly for cruisers, the government decided that as this was one of the island's prime swimming beaches, Pompierre would be off-limits to marine traffic and all of the "pollution" boats bring.  (I know, fellow cruisers, I'm not EVEN going there.) Oh, well... You're welcome to visit the beach, whether by foot, by scooter, or by shuttles that pick up tourists from town. There are gazebos with picnic tables up and down the beach, and you can bring your own lunch or pick something up at a couple of roadside stands near the park entrance.

The rest of the day took us to every side of the island, with stops at Grand Anse on the east coast (no swimming allowed thanks to breaking waves and a dangerous riptide), Anse Rodrigue (beware of little brown "gifts" left by wandering goats) to the south, and an overlook at Pain a Sucre to the west. Lunch was an adventure in itself, thanks to our first try (the Yacht Club) being closed, and our second try (Case aux Epices) being much too pricey for our tastes. (25 euros for lunch?) We finally ended up at Le Mambo, a reasonable spot in town that has great breakfast and lunch but is particularly known for its pizza. We "settled" for some fantastic mahi mahi and goat curry, since the pizza ovens don't get lit until 7pm!

Our next couple of days were spent moored at Ilet a Cabrit, a deserted island less than a mile from the town anchorage. The mooring field was full thanks to a three-day holiday weekend (Whit Monday is a national holiday's good to be French!), but we were able to grab the last available ball. This spot was perfect for some down time; there were no ferries, no shopping, and no internet. We enjoyed beautiful sunsets and even managed to do a few boat projects. We find we're much more productive when we don't have too many distractions!

We spent our last evening in the Saintes with Pat and Darnell on Island Dream, who had joined us after picking up Pat's cousin, Celest, in Guadeloupe. Darnell hosted a Mexican night potluck (one of our favorites!), which made prepping Pipe Muh Bligh MUCH easier for the 20-mile trip down to Portsmouth, Dominica.

On a different note, we've purchased a month of wi-fi from a company which has towers in the Saintes, Dominica, and a number of other ports down-island. It seems to be working well so far (hence so many new blogs), so we hope to post again from "the Nature Island", Dominica. Cheers!

Please enjoy more pictures of the Saintes here.

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